The script was written, the script was torn apart, but Round 1 of the 2018 Natwest Six Nations threw up a sensational trio of encounters, with plenty of highlights to relive.
In the opening salvo of the competition Scotland had expectations on their backs, but it was not the only thing hunting them down as Wales claimed an emphatic 34-7 bonus-point win to underline their credentials, an important statement, which Warren Gatland insisted was never in doubt.
Over in France, Ireland were pushed to the limits with the hosts leading into overtime at the Stade de France, only for a last-gasp drop-goal to snatch a breathtaking victory for Joe Schmidt’s men in emerald green.
Meanwhile, defending champions England opened their campaign with a resounding 46-15 triumph, including seven tries, as they stormed to the summit of the Six Nations table after Round 1.
- Sam Simmonds
Billy Vunipola’s exclusion through injury left a huge pair of boots to fill, but Exeter Chiefs back-row Sam Simmonds put his own stamp on the England No 8 jersey in style on Sunday, with a spellbinding display of pace and power in Rome on Sunday. Influential throughout, Simmonds amassed a remarkable 23 tackles, second most in Round 1, made 14 carries – more than any of his compatriots, chalked up England’s most metres with 80 to his name and bagged a brace of tries. So much energy in the tank and you sense, so much more to give.
- Aaron Shingler
Under the closed roof of the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales flanker Aaron Shingler consolidated his status as an outstanding Test back-five player in the home side’s pack. Shingler’s versatility and no-nonsense approach has seen him deliver classic performances for Scarlets week in, week out – now his form is translating on the international stage by the way of Man of the Match displays. Winning five line-outs and completing nine tackles, second only to Josh Navidi in the Welsh side, Shingler had his hand in all which was great about the Wales display on Saturday.
- Guilhem Guirado
It is not very often a player in a losing cause is voted as Man of the Match, but it was an honour deservingly bestowed upon France captain Guilhem Guirado in a heartbreaking defeat to Ireland on Saturday evening. Leader his side into battle, France hooker Guirado was inspirational throughout and a pivotal cog in the defensive wall which repelled Ireland so often. Guirado racked up a stunning, Round 1 table-topping, 28 tackles, five more than any other player in the opening fixtures, and kept getting back up for more as France pushed Ireland to brink.
- Sexton’s Steel
With France leading 13-12 as the clocks turned red in the Stade de France, Ireland built through 41 phases, before Conor Murray pulled the ball back to talismanic fly-half Jonathan Sexton, who displayed tenacity, audacity and nerves of steel as he landed a 45-metre drop-goal to claim a place in rugby folklore and was duly piled on by his teammates after a jaw-dropping winner.
- Superman Steff
Despite some debate over the pass from Hadleigh Parkes to Wales winger Steff Evans, touch and go forward, the Scarlets flyer displayed remarkable athleticism to completed a wonderful diving effort to evade his tacklers and remain in touch as he clinched the all-important bonus-point score for Wales.
- Ford & Farrell Flair
While Sam Simmonds will deservingly take many headlines from England’s conquering of Rome, the real magic came in form of the George Ford and Owen Farrell axis pairing, which worked a treat for Eddie Jones and led to this masterful try as the latter burst the line to set his fly-half colleague over the whitewash.